Do Not Fear, Focus!

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 14/Year A ● August 9, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, August 9, 2020

Do Not Fear, Focus!

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Last week, before the feeding miracle, Jesus had been in a boat on his way to be “by himself” in a deserted place. His attempt at solitude was pre-empted by his miraculous response to the human needs of the crowd for healing and feeding.  After feeding the 5,000 Jesus sent the disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, without him, while he stayed behind to dismiss the people. After dismissing the people, Jesus went up on the mountain to pray—another attempt at solitude, which appeared to be successful.

In the early morning (this would have been between the hours of 3:00 a.m.-6:00 a.m.) Jesus walked to the distressed disciples in the boat.  Now, they had expected to meet him on the other side of the sea, not in the sea.  The scripture does not indicate that the disciples had called for him to come to their aid, nor does it indicate that in their overwhelm of struggling with the dangerous waves battering their ship, that the disciples even thought to call on Jesus.  Yet, Jesus, praying by himself, knew of their distress and responded to their need, and to their terror at the sight of him. Jesus spoke the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (v. 27).  We are led to assume that the disciples heeded his direction because the story shifts from Jesus’ group address to his intimate one-on-one encounter with Peter.

Peter asked Jesus to command him to come to him on the water. When Jesus did command him to come, without hesitation, Peter left the boat, which was still being battered by the waves, and walked on the water toward him. Noticing the strong wind, Peter was afraid and began to sink. Peter began to sink, not because of a defect in his faith.  Peter began to sink because he was distracted by the strong wind (v.30). Peter’s fear of the strong wind distracted him from his focus on Jesus, and he was no longer fully present with him. When Peter cried out for the Lord to save him, again an indication of his faith, Jesus did. They both got into the boat at which point the distraction of the wind ceased. And all in the boat worshiped Jesus and proclaimed him truly the Son of God.

When Hollywood and other secular entities appropriate this scripture, such appropriation often fails to point to God made manifest in the human person of Jesus and witnessed by other humans. Jesus’ ability to walk on water was not about his divinity; if it were, Peter would not have been able to also walk on the water.  It was God’s divine empowerment of Jesus and Peter, which enabled them to do what was humanly impossible. “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

I am reminded of the area of the church where the congregation sits called the nave—which derives from the Latin word for ship, navis.  If one looks up to the ceiling from the pews in a church with Gothic Revival architecture, one will see that the shape of the ceiling resembles the inside of an upside-down boat.  How very apropos this scripture is for where we currently find ourselves in the life of Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church.

For the last two years, faithful disciples have been called to construct the boat of the faith community known as Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church. In those two years we anticipated some rough waters.  While this boat has always moved through unchartered waters—with every milestone being the first of its kind—the transitional growth from a church plant to a mission church brings us to a new body of unchartered water, with future challenges yet to manifest. But the divine empowerment that we need to navigate the path set before us is not found in the distraction of the paralyzing fear of what might happen in the future.

When Jesus told the disciples, “Do not fear,” I hear him saying to his Church, “Do not fear tomorrow; focus on me today.” It is in this present moment, when the Church Universal’s “boat,” is being battered by storms of the raging pandemic, where Jesus meets his faithful to teach, to equip, to assure and to calm. Jesus, always walking toward us, whispers, “Do not fear tomorrow; focus on me today.”

Three years ago, when I said, “Yes,” to this call to partner with the Holy Spirit to bring forth a new Episcopal Church presence in Wesley Chapel, I had no clue what was going to happen. I had no concept of how God would use me to call a community of believers (whom I had never met); to gather those souls into the boat of a faith community that had not been built; to navigate the health of that vessel from one temporary location to the next; and to do it without the advantage of visual mapping of the sea before us. Had I consumed myself with the “what ifs” of the potential storms, built into the church planting weather pattern, I might have become distracted like Peter, overwhelmed and sinking with the fear of threats to the vessel of the faith community.

Take heart, and do not fear. In our shared state of vulnerability, in the midst of everything swirling about this boat of Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Jesus comes to us, to train our eyes, ears, and especially our hearts, to be fixed on him in this precious moment.  Jesus is always calling us to be with him in the present moment in prayer.  As we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, the real presence of the risen Christ comes among us and stands with us, to empower us to be living instruments of God’s grace for others struggling through the storms of the human condition of suffering.

And, in the midst of these challenging times of the pandemic, may God continue to empower Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church to move through our fears by faithfully walking with Jesus; to call upon Jesus’ name in times of rejoicing and in times of sorrow; and to abandon distractions in order to focus on our savior who stills all storms as we strive to bring Christ’s light and bear Christ’s hope in the uncharted waters to come.